PLAYOFF BLOG: Panthers Bow Out After Comeback Falls Short

A comeback effort falls short. Missed opportunities in the red zone and giving up four sacks at inopportune times proved to be the difference.

FINAL: Saints 31, Panthers 26 

Newton is sacked and that'll be the game.

Hail mary attempt is no good. 4th and 23 for the game. 

10-second runoff after the penalty. 24 seconds left.

Cam Newton called for intentional grounding. Big play by Cam Jordan to get to Newton to force the throw away. It's 3rd and 23 with 34 seconds left.

41 seconds left after an incompletion.

Defensive holding gives the Panthers first down at the Saints 21. 46 seconds left.

What a pass to Kaelin Clay along the sideline! Clay got 2 feet in at the 26 for a completed catch!

Newton finds Funchess at midfield. 1st down.

Saints go for it on 4th and 2 and the ball is intercepted! Wow! Panthers get the ball back at the 31.

Saints are stopped and the Panthers will get the ball back with a chance to win the game. Julius Peppers makes the tackle of Kamara at the line of scrimmage. Two-minute warning coming up!

Third and 2 coming up as the Panthers call their final timeout.

Panthers call timeout with 2:30 left and the Saints facing 2nd & 5 at midfield.

Thomas with a great catch on third and long. He's been deadly all day.

Ingram is stopped in the backfield to force third and long! Huge play coming up. Panthers call timeout. with 3:22 left.

Christian McCaffrey with a huge touchdown catch. A 56-yard catch-and-run! It's 31-26 with 4:09 left. Panthers need a stop and a touchdown.

Alvin Kamara takes it across the goal line from a yard out. It's 31-19 with 5:08 left. 

Thomas is there and Brees makes a great throw on the run. That could be a game-sealer. Saints are at the 5 for a first and goal. Panthers need to hold them to a field goal. Brees now has 353 yards passing.

Cameron Jordan bats the ball down on a screen pass. Panthers will have to punt from deep in their own end. 8:23 left.

Cam got drilled there on a big hit. He tried to come off the field and didn't make it. Scary moment. Backup quarterback Derek Anderson is coming in. The TV announcers say Anderson has battled the flu all week. Not ideal.

On a big third and long, Brees pressured and has to throw it away. Panthers defense has rebounded nicely in the second half and only allowed three points thus far. Saints run game hasn't been there today like it has all year. They've got the ball down 24-19 with 9:52 left. 

Brees with a couple of good passes and the Saints are at midfield just like that. 

Panthers finally get in the end zone on a Greg Olsen touchdown catch! Olsen got free off the line of scrimmage and Carolina has life. The extra point is good and it's 24-19 with 12:47 left. 

Panthers get a sorely needed defensive stop after Brees tripped over his offensive lineman's foot. Both teams trade three-and-outs.

Newton sacked by Cameron Jordan for a loss of nine and Panthers are in trouble. On 3rd and 19, Newton finds McCaffrey for a modest gain to bring up fourth down.

On 3rd and 5, Panthers bring a blitz and draw an intentional grounding call to make it a 57-yard field goal attempt by Will Lutz. It's good. Another career long kick and it's 24-12 Saints. 

Ginn with another big catch on third down and Saints are in Panthers territory. It's their first third down conversion.  

Newton is sacked after working hard to stay alive. He couldn't find anyone open. Panthers settle for a field goal again. 21-12. Red zone ineffectiveness killing the Panthers.

Another big catch by Christian McCaffrey to convert a third and 2. Newton with an accurate throw in traffic. Panthers need a touchdown here.

Two big plays to start the half for the Panthers. Jonathan Stewart with a 29-yard run and Panthers are at the New Orleans 29.

HALFTIME: Saints 21, Panthers 9

Wow! Graham Gano hits a 58-yard field goal and it's 21-9 at halftime. Gano's kick was the longest made field goal in team history.

Saints down at the 1. Fullback Zach Line runs into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown. It's 21-6 Saints with 43 seconds left. 

Saints pick up the blitz and Brees throws a perfect pass to Hill over the shoulder of Dean Marlowe. 

Brees continuing to look good. He finds Brandon Coleman for 18 yards. 

Saints bring the blitz and Newton has to get rid of it on a short pass to Ed Dickson, who's stopped short of the first down marker. Gano hits a 39-yard field goal and it's 14-6. 2:47 left in the half. Saints will try to add points before halftime here. 

Christian McCaffrey gets a couple yards on a first down run. Brenton Bersin got open on a crossing route on 3rd and long for the first down.

Panthers go for it on 4th and inches and Cam has it for the first down on a sneak. 

On 3rd and 1, Jonathan Stewart lunges for the first down and looks short. 

Brees finds Josh Hill for the touchdown and his eighth straight completion. Hill was wide open. 14-3 with 9:04 left in the half. The red zone opportunities are the difference so far as the Panthers have 3 points in their two trips and the Saints have 14. Panthers need a response here. 

Great move by Thomas to use the sideline to his advantage. Saints have first and goal at the 9.

Defensive lineman Kawann Short comes out of the game for Carolina. 

Ingram gets a big gain on a screen pass that probably should have been nullified for a holding call. Thomas Davis was irate no call was made. Saints now in Panthers territory. 

Brees finds Michael Thomas, who hurt the Panthers in their Week 3 matchup, for a big play out to midfield. 

Panthers forced to kick a field goal again after a throw sails on Cam. Gano nails this field goal and Panthers are on the board down 7-3.

End 1st Quarter: Saints 7, Panthers 0

A pass interference call on the Saints gives the Panthers a first down in the red zone. Newton got drilled as he threw a great deep ball to Clay, who was tackled before it got there. It's a 39-yard play. 

Former Panther Ted Ginn, Jr. gets behind the defense for an 80-yard touchdown. Ginn beat his man and James Bradberry couldn't get back there in time. Saints were pretty quiet on offense until that play. But it's 7-0 Saints after a disastrous stretch for Carolina. 

Well, it will. A 25-yard Graham Gano field goal is wide right. Miscues on consecutive plays for Carolina. Gotta get points on a drive like that in a playoff game.

On 3rd and 2, a pass to Clay in the end zone is dropped. Hopefully those don't come back to haunt the Panthers.

McCaffrey stopped in the backfield, Ed Dickson can't reel in a pass and on 3rd and 11, Kaelin Clay with a screen pass and stays on his feet long enough to get a first down. Nice play call as the Saints brought the blitz from the same side. Panthers dominating time of possession so far.

On 3rd and 3, Newton with an accurate pass on an out to Greg Olsen. That one was right where it needed to be. Panthers in field goal range and a first down.

Fozzy Whitaker gets another first down after a short pass to Christian McCaffrey. Panthers in Saints territory. 

On 3rd and 8, Newton runs for a first down and the Saints are called for defensive holding on Greg Olsen. Newton making plays with his feet per usual.

Panthers get the ball back at their own 30-yard-line. Both teams still looking to find their rhythm on offense. 

Ouch. Wide receiver Devin Funchess came down awkwardly on his leg on that third down incompletion. Saints get the ball back.

After a defensive stop, the Panthers get the ball for the first time. Big three and out to start the game.

Carolina Panthers (11-5) Vs. New Orleans Saints (11-5)

NFC Wild Card Playoff Round

Kickoff: 4:40 p.m., Mercedes-Benz Superdome

Be sure to follow our coverage on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #PanthersOn2. 

They say it's hard to beat a team three times, and the Carolina Panthers hope that rings true today against NFC South rival New Orleans Saints.

RELATED: 5 Things You Need to Know Ahead of Panthers' Playoff Game Vs. Saints

New Orleans handed the Panthers two of their five losses this season. The teams finished with the same 11-5 record, but New Orleans owned the tiebreaker to give them the division and homefield today.

RELATED: Cam Newton's Supporting Cast Must Step Up For Panthers to Overcome Saints

It won't be easy. The Saints are a 5.5-point favorite and have won five consecutive home playoff games. They were 7-1 at home this season.

RELATED: Panthers' Greg Olsen Nominated for NFL's 'Man of the Year' for Third Time

Veteran quarterback Drew Bees had no problem with the Carolina defense this year, which was regarded as one of the league's best. Brees threw for three touchdowns and completed 22 of 29 passes in a Week 3 win in Charlotte. The Week 13 matchup was a de facto division championship game and Brees delivered again, throwing for 269 yards and getting help from running backs Alvin Kamara (two touchdowns on nine carries) and Mark Ingram (one touchdown). The Saints jumped out to a 21-7 lead and cruised to a 31-21 final.

Both teams are coming off rather forgettable outings in the regular season finale. The Panthers were all out of sorts in a 22-10 defeat to the Atlanta Falcons as Cam Newton misfired on his first nine passes. Newton finished 14 of 34 with three interceptions and a 31.5 quarterback rating. New Orleans allowed a 39-yard touchdown pass with nine seconds left in a 31-24 loss at Tampa Bay. 

The key for Carolina will be minimizing the New Orleans' offense, one of the few units to move the ball effectively on the Panthers this year. Newton will almost certainly have a better performance than last week, one of the worst of his career.

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